Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Sunday downplayed polls showing he has yet to recapture his early, front-runner status but acknowledged that he needs to be a better candidate.
“Candidates have to get better, and that’s what I intend to do,” the former Florida governor told “Fox News Sunday.” "These polls really don't matter. ... I know it's an obsession because it kind of frames the debate for people for that week. But I'm in it for the long haul."
Bush is in sixth place among likely Republican voters, according to a Fox News poll released Sunday. He received 7 percent of the vote, and billionaire businessman Donald Trump finished first with 26 percent.
"It is a marathon, and we just started advertising," he also said. "We've got a great ground game in these early states. I'm confident I can win New Hampshire."
Bush also defended his remarks last week about Democratic and Republican candidates competing for the black vote, comments that have been compared to those made in 2012 by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney after his loss.
"Our message is one of hope and aspiration,” Bush, a favorite among the Republican establishment, said Thursday in early-voting state South Carolina. “It isn't one of division and 'Get in line and we'll take care of you with free stuff.’ ”
On Sunday, he said his remarks are, in fact, the opposite of what Romney said.
“To the contrary,” Bush said. “I think we need to make our case to African-American voters and all voters that an aspirational message, fixing a few big complex things, will allow people to rise up. That's what people want. They don't want free stuff. That was my whole point.”
He argued that the average American family’s disposable income has declined by thousands of dollars and that 6 million more Americans are in poverty since President Obama was elected in 2007, while the federal government continues to spend trillions of dollars annually on poverty programs.
“We should try something different, which is to give people the capacity to achieve earned success, fix our schools, fix our economy, lessen the crime rates in the big urban areas and I think people in poverty could be lifted up,” Bush told Fox.
He also said he disagrees with some congressional Republicans’ idea of shutting down the government this week by not agreeing to a spending bill that includes funding for Planned Parenthood.
“That's not the way democracy works,” he said. “It’s better to elect a conservative president who pledges to do it and work with Congress.”
He also backed the efforts of House Speaker John Boehner, who resigned last week, saying he “admired” him and that he will be missed “in the long run.”